This day in Bodhgaya, the town where the Buddha attained enlightenment, was certainly our most enjoyable day in India. Like both Thanksgiving and Christmas on this trip, we managed to find a meaningful activity that was seasonally appropriate. While CeCe was doing yoga (and then trailed by a sketchy Indian man), I sat in on a sunrise ceremony conducted by a local Buddhist school beneath a bodhi tree. I was first drawn in by the chanting, child voices in unison, with some of the older boys an octave below. The words (or syllables?) went like this: Ohhh, moonee moonee, maha moonee, saka moonee, swa ha This went on continuously or about 30 minutes while the children, boys in white pyjamas, girls in pink, proceeded to the altar in groups of five. They offered flowers, bowed and recessed. Very simple.
A few minutes after I took my seat on the perimeter about ten or fifteen children with painful-looking physical deformities began to arrive, transported to the shrine on the backs of their able-bodied classmates. One boy ungainly walked in on all fours. (One newspaper article I read this week referenced the continued problem with polio in impoverished urban areas.)
The ceremony continued and one boy handed me his baseball cap on his way forward, and one brazen girl brushed my knee as she returned to her seat on the floor. Presiding over all of this was a rotund, older woman with designer shades and a shaved head who sternly kept order in English, with sharp commands correcting posture or reprimanding the younger boys for shouting not chanting. Later on in passing, she referred to the 150 or so students as her “large family”. Taking in the action was the school’s shaggy white mutt and a handful of unrelated worshippers.
The Buddha is a part of the Hindu pantheon too, we’ve learned. In the midst of the chanting a herd of loud and inconsiderate middle-aged Hindus appeared and, while gawking at the Buddha relics, thrust their fat rear ends in the faces of the youngest schoolboys seated up front.
At some point CeCe joined me, the Hindus moved on, the chanting continued, and Buddhists of all stripes came and went: Burmese men in their ankle-length longyis (sarongs), Thai nuns well-outfitted in their matching logo-ed satchels, and monks in robes of gold, crimson, orange and saffron.
At the ceremony’s end, the children were instructed to meditate although, like schoolchildren everywhere, some were clearly dozing. When the rites and rituals were complete, we were mobbed by the boys and the girls moved meekly on to explore the temple grounds.